What are moules-frites?
Moules-frites (mussels and French fries) are one of the most popular dishes in Belgium that can also be found in the north of France. A simple combination of mussels cooked with various spices and potatoes fried in beef fat.
What is the origin of moules-frites?
The origin of moules-frites is invariably associated with Maison Fritz of Liège where they were served for the first time in 1875. Since then, moules-frites have become widely popular in the north of France and in particular during the big annual fair in Lille where vendors compete for the highest stack of mussel shells. The record was broken in 2009 with five hundred tons of mussels and thirty tons of fries consumed.
Sales numbers have always been disputed from one year to the next between the restaurants Aux moules, rue de Béthune (now closed) and La Chicorée, place Rihour.
With the spread of breweries in Paris from the start of the Belle Epoque, moules-frites have become a staple of Parisian tables. Thanks to the Great Exhibition and the mass visit of provincials, the recipe has become popular throughout France and now appears on the menu of most breweries.
The recipe for moules-frites is so popular that it is one of the favorite dishes of Belgians and French. In France, the Chez Léon or Léon de Bruxelles restaurant chain is present throughout the country and offers a wide variety of moules-frites recipes.
How to make moules-frites
Preparing moules-frites the Belgian way is very simple. Zealand mussels from the Oosterschelde and Wadden Sea regions are preferred. They are low in calories, very protein-rich and rich in minerals, limestone, phosphorus and vitamins. They are subdivided according to their sizes. More than 57 million kilos (100 million pounds) are produced each year and intended for the Belgian market alone.
Mussels should be sorted and cleaned before use, and broken ones should be discarded. Separately, prepare the sauce with butter and a mixture of finely chopped vegetables such as celery, leek, onion and shallots. The whole is flavored with thyme, bay leaf and black pepper.
Once the aromatic garnish is sweated, add the mussels and immediately cover the pot for steaming. By shaking the pot vigorously, the mussels are allowed to mix and open more easily. Finally, add the white wine and continue cooking for a few minutes. The mussels are ready as soon as they open. Those that do not open should not be consumed.
The proper preparation of the fries is essential. Choose a suitable variety of potatoes, otherwise they will disintegrate when cooked. Once washed, peeled and washed again, the potatoes should be thoroughly dried. They are then cut in sticks and then dried again.
The first frying is done in beef fat at a temperature of 280 F (140°C), it is best to use a kitchen thermometer. The temperature drops as soon as the fries are added, and it is important that it goes up quickly to cook the fries evenly.
After six minutes of cooking, the fries should be removed, drained thoroughly and allowed to cool. The temperature of the beef fat is then increased for the second fry at 350 F (180°C), which will make the outside very crisp. The first stage of making the fries can be done in advance and the second frying when the mussels begin to open.
The mussels are generally served in a pot and shared at the table. The fries are served separately to prevent them from getting soggy in the cooking juices from the mussels.
Moules-frites are usually eaten with beer or dry white wine.
Variants of mussels and fries?
If the association remains unchanged, the way of preparing the mussels may differ. The most popular moules-frites recipes are:
- Moules marinières, cooked in a preparation based on white wine, shallots, parsley and butter,
- Moules natures (plain mussels), simply steamed with butter, celery and leeks,
- Moules à la crème (cream mussels), always prepared in a white wine sauce to which flour and cream are added, which gives it a denser consistency,
- Moules parquées, from Brussels. This time, the mussels are not cooked and are simply seasoned with a mustard and vinegar sauce.
- Moules à la bière (beer mussels) where the latter replaces the usual white wine,
- Moules à l’ail (garlic mussels),
- Other more original variants exist such as curry powder mussels or even green curry mussels.
- 4 lb Zeeland mussels
- 2 stalks celery , finely sliced
- 1 leek , thinly sliced
- ¾ cup white wine
- 1 large onion , thinly sliced
- 1 shallot , thinly sliced
- 2 small sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 tablespoons butter
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb potatoes
- 4 lb beef fat
- Fine salt
- Dutch oven
- Deep frier
Rinse the potatoes, peel them and rinse them again. Dry them well in a cloth.
Cut the potatoes into French fries, regular width and length, about ½ inch (1 cm) thick.
Dry the potato sticks with a cloth again.
Melt the beef fat in a deep fryer and then heat it to 280 F (140°C).
Fill the basket with fries, without packing them too much, then immerse the basket in the oil for 6 minutes of frying.
Shake the basket a little during cooking to prevent the fries from sticking together. They should be golden and cooked to the core but still be a little soft.
Drain the fries by shaking them over the fryer, and allow them to cool completely before the second fry.
After or towards the end of the cooking of the mussels, immerse the fries in the oil heated to 350 F (180°C) for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the basket regularly so that the cooking is uniform.
As soon as they are colored, drain them and place them in a bowl covered with paper towel. Season with salt and serve immediately.
In a large Dutch oven or pot, melt the butter over low heat, add all the minced vegetables and brown for 5 minutes over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Increase the heat to the maximum, without burning the butter, add the mussels to the pot and add the bay leaf and thyme. Cover immediately.
After a minute, add the wine, and as soon as it boils again, add black pepper and cover the pot.
Shake the pot, holding the lid on well to distribute the aromas.
Continue cooking over high heat and still covered, shaking the pot from time to time.
Stop cooking when the mussels are open, and serve.
It is possible to filter the beef fat after use, and let it cool in the fryer or in a glass jar. It can be reused ten times. It solidifies after cooling.